A series of “border crossings” where Rebecca Moczulewski ventured out into the community, coming face to face with the poor, overcoming stereotypes and breaking down myths as she heard their stories, changed this artist’s life.
One border crossing was at Repairers of the Breach, Milwaukee’s only daytime shelter and resource center for the homeless, where she met director MacCanon Brown.
“She knew I was an artist (who was) staying home with the kids,” said Moczulewski of Brown. “She said if I could find the time and was interested in an art project, to get a hold of her.”
That was in 2004. The result is a series of watercolor paintings that will appear in a 2012 calendar, and be reproduced as murals for Repairers’ fence.
Moczulewski was inspired by the people and environment at Repairers’ headquarters, 1335 W. Vliet St., where she met with staff and clients, did quick sketches and snapped photos at the shelter.
Parish: Mary Queen of Heaven, West Allis
Occupation: Wife, mother, artist and development coordinator at SET Ministry, Milwaukee
Book recently read: “The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See,” by Richard Rohr
Favorite movie: “It’s a Wonderful Life”
Favorite quotation: “The most healing power on earth appears when imperfect people, dismissing all the signs to the contrary, know they have enormous power to bless this wounded world. We are to bless it as extravagantly, as wastefully, as passionately as God has blessed us.” – Patrick Malone
(Submitted photo courtesy Rebecca Moczulewski)
For the wife, mother, teacher and artist it was a labor of love, but also a challenge.
“We’re called to be bridges to our neighbors,” she said. “That led me to venture out of my bubble in New Berlin. And once I decided to take on this large art endeavor for the homeless, I had to consciously simplify my life. ”
The key, she laughed, “was that I stopped watching television.”
“Also, my husband (a CPA) is my partner, patron and co-collaborator in this ministry,” she added. “He supports me financially and emotionally – which every artist needs. Without his support and encouragement none of this would happen.”
Moczulewski’s art background includes a bachelor of fine arts from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as well as an art education teaching certificate for K-12.
“My faith is my core energy,” she said. “It fueled this whole project.”
While staying at home raising the couple’s two daughters, Moczulewski said she got involved with different, non-profit organizations as a volunteer, including JustFaith, a formation program which teaches Catholic social teaching, in order to develop compassion. She facilitated groups in three West Allis parishes.
“And then I started doing ‘border crossings’ with SET Ministry,” she added.
Brown told Moczulewski that she was looking for a positive image to brighten the chain link fence that surrounds the shelter.
“The dimensions were 4’ x 8’; compositionally twice as wide as they are tall. That was tough for me. But that’s what was needed.
“I went online and did research into what other communities have done,” she said. “I also found a sign maker who would do digital prints on sheets of plastic-laminated, wood-core aluminum boards.”
“MacCanon is real big on telling the story of Repairers,” she said. “So we discussed a dozen characteristics or aspects that are important to the shelter.”
For inspiration, Moczulewski said she went to Repairers of the Breach about 12 to18 times.
“We spent a year just talking about it. I’d meet with the marketing committee; sit in on the daily meeting – a very powerful thing to witness. I met the community members who fill various volunteer posts throughout the day. Some are speakers, some are greeters, others run music and media, handle stations in the clothing center or unload vehicles.”
Moczulewski admitted it was awkward at first, but the people quickly put her at ease with their welcoming ways.
“I was treated like a guest, and many were intrigued by the project. They were incredibly hospitable. I took tons of photographs. I easily have more than 500,” she said.
She drew and painted for 18 months over the next two years – taking the summers off while her children were home from school.
“The hardest part was simplifying mylife enough to make the time to produce the work,” she said. “I had to focus and prioritize. I got very organized. And, of course, I stopped watching TV.”
First Moczulewski printed 100 photos from her collection.
“Then I played around: blowing some up, shrinking others, assembling compositions using various photographs. I did architectural renderings of the sign boards with the building’s new facade. I sketched out little studies; ending with 18 images, which I narrowed down to the 12,” she said.
She chose to create her work with watercolors, a medium that always intrigued her, but one she said she never had time to explore.
“When I was prayerful, I painted my best work,” she said. “When I let go of the fear of making mistakes, and just trusted, every brush stroke became a response to the intuition I felt in my gut. But it was difficult. To paint prayerfully I had to let go and trust.”
It was made easier “by my faith and purpose,” she said. “I come from a faith tradition that believes we see the face of God in those we meet. My hope is that other people can share a little piece through the paintings. And of course, I’m very interested in continuing a series of paintings that build bridges.”